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Latour, Bruno- Latour ANT

Latour, Bruno- Latour ANT

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Lancaster University
..We are grateful to Michel Callon for his permission to publish his paper on our pages.
Please note that the copyright of this paper remains with the author. If you do quote
from it, please follow the usual academic conventions for references.
This is a draft. The final version will be published in
Actor Network Theory and After, Blackwell, 1998
Bruno Latour
Keynote Speech: 'On Recalling ANT'
'Actor Network and After' Workshop, Keele University,
July 1997
Author's address:

Bruno Latour
Centre de Sociologie de l'Innovation
\u00c9cole des Mines de Paris
6\u00ba Bvd Saint-Michel
F-75006 Paris
Email:latour@csi. ensmp.fr

Thank you for asking someone who never used the word actor-network to
speak at the introduction of this meeting.

I guess that the division of labor between John and I is that, according to the title of the conference, since he has talked about `ANT' , thus my topic must be `and after'.

Hopefully there is a life after ANT and, like Antony I can say `I am not here to praise ANT but to bury it'. Let us do it properly so that from the ashes something else can ressuscitate.

There are four things that do not work with actor-network theory; the word actor, the word network, the word theory and the hyphen! Four nails in the coffin.

The first nail in the coffin is I guess the word `network' as John as already mentioned. This is the great danger of using a technical metaphor slightly ahead of everyone's common use. Now with the Web everyone believes they understand what a network is. 20 years ago there war still some freshness in the term.

What is the difference between the older and the new usage? Network at the time clearly meant a series of transformations -translations, transductions-; now, on the contrary, it clearly means a transportw ithout deformation, an instantaneous, unmediated access to every piece of information. That is exactly the opposite of what we meant. The double click has killed the last bit of critical edge left in the notion of network. I don't think we should use it anymore.

The second nail in the coffin is the word actor in its hyphenated connection with the notion of net. From day one, I objected to the hyphen because inevitably it would remind sociologists of the agency/structure clich\u00e9, or `pont aux \u00e2nes' as we say in French.

The managerial, engineering, machiavelian, demiurgic character of ANT has been criticized many times and by many people in this room. More exactly, critiques have alternated, quite predictably, between the two poles one turned around the actor, the other turned around the network; the first critiques have insisted on the demiurgic, male like, hairy gorilla character; the second on the dissolution of humanity into a field of forces where morality, humanity, psychology was absent; demiurgy on one side; death of man on the other.

No matter how prepared I am to criticize the theory, I still think that these two symmetrical critiques are off target. The idea was never to occupy a position into the agency/structure debate, not even toovercome this contradiction. Contradictions should not be overcome, but ignored or bypassed. But I agree that the hyphenated term made impossible to see clearly the bypass operation that has been attempted.

Let me take a few minutes to refocus the argument. Let us abandon the actor
and the network altogether and pay some attention to two operations, one of
framing and one of summing.
Social sciences have always alternated, yes, but not so much between actor
and system, or agency and structure. The alternation is different; it is a
dissatisfaction with the micro level that forces the attention away to

concentrate on what has made the situation what it is; then when we move the attention to society, norms, values, culture, etc., there is a second disatisfaction; the asbtraction of those terms seem too great, and then, by a second move, attention is shifted away to the micro level, to the incarnated, in the flesh practice.

It seems to me that ANT is simply a way to pay attention to these two disatisfactions not again to overcome them or to solve the problem, but to follow them elsewhere: may be the social has this bizarre property not to be made of agency and stucture at all, but to be acirculating entity. The double disatisfaction is thus the results of trying to picture a trajectory, a movement, by using a couple of opposition between two notions, micro and macro, individual and structure, which have nothing to do with it.

Then, if this bypass is accepted, a few things are clarified: actantiality is not what an actor does -with its consequence for the demiurgic idea of ANT- but what provides actants with their actions, with their subjectivity, with their intentionality, with their morality. When you hook up with this circulating entity, then you are partially provided with consciousness, subjectivity, actoriality etc. I will come back to those in a moment.

Now what about the macro-social? The network pole of actor-network does not aim at all to designate Society, this Big Animal. It designates something entirely different which is the summing up of interactions through some sort of devices, isncriptions, forms, etc into a very local, very practical, very tiny locus. This is now well known through the study of accounting, managerial practice, panoptica, economics, anthropology of markets. Big does not mean really big or overall or overaching, but connected, blind, local, mediated, related.

The topology of the social, John is right, is rather bizarre, but I don't think it is fractal. Each locus can be seen as framing and summing up. `Actor' is not here to play the role of agency and `network' to play the role of society. Actor and network -if we want to still use the terms- designates two faces of the same phenomenon, like wave and particles, the slow realisation that the social is a certain type of circulation that can travel endlesslyw ithout ever encountering the micro-level -there is never an interaction that is not framed- nor the macro-level -there are only local summing up.

To have transformed the social from a surface, from a territory, from a
province of reality, to a circulation, is what I think has been the most useful

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